Following a December 5 visit from a volunteer Santa Claus, a Belgian retirement home in Mol, Antwerp Province in Belgium, is currently battling with a nasty COVID-19 outbreak that has killed at least 26 residents. Over 80 other residents and 40 staff members are infected. The volunteer Santa Claus who is suspected to have caused the outbreak tested positive after he visited the home, Fox News reports.
A local health official told reporters on Thursday that it is not certain that the volunteer had been the cause of the outbreak in the home, but he is a suspect since the residents of the home started falling sick shortly after his visit. Marc Van Ranst, a renowned virologist revealed in a Twitter post that a large bulk of the infections appeared to have been from the same source.
A visit from Sinterklaas is a Belgian tradition. Volunteers clad in red robes with long white beards visit Belgians yearly, on December 6, bearing gifts. The coronavirus pandemic has affected the traditions this year with over 19,000 people dead in the country.
Joris Moonens, a regional spokesman told reporters that the province has not opened an investigation into the outbreak in the home as a result of the absence of a formal complaint. Moonens explained that it was also not clear yet if the volunteer knew he was infected before he paid a visit to the home. The spokesman said that officials have been sent to Hemelrijck, the affected long-term care facility, to help the facility handle the situation, CBS News writes.
Hemelrijck used to house 169 residents before the outbreak. As a long-term care facility, the residents of Hemelrijck and other long-term care facilities are highly susceptible to the coronavirus. Residents of such facilities contributed over 50% of the total COVID-19 death in the European country.
An official of the municipality of Mols stated earlier that officials of Hemelrijck had ensured that COVID-19 safety measures were followed strictly during December 5 event. The representative had explained that the volunteer had been restricted to some parts of the facility and everyone wore masks during the visit.
“He wore a face mask and did not move very close to the residents who also had their masks on,” the representative stated.
The municipality had to recant the statement when pictures of the event revealed that the residents of the facility did not wear masks during the event. In a press release, the municipality said that its earlier statement had been a result of a false statement it received from Hemelrijck. The municipality added that the home had clearly been negligent during the visit.